On painting still life sets > Bethann Moran-Handzlik reflects on her inspiration of painting pairs of floral arrangements.
Painting Still Life Flowers: The Pleasure of a Pair
by Bethann Moran-Handzlik
Architects and designers often use the symmetry of pairs to stimulate a sense of calm order in the design of our homes and work environments. This balanced order is pleasurable to our intellect and supports our emotional well-being. Some of my painted subjects compel me toward thinking in pairs. The pair extends an idea from a singular work to a second painting and gives the work layers of unspoken meaning that are not achieved by a single painting alone.
‘Hopeful’ and ‘Thankful’ are a pair that express the cycle of being hopeful and then thankful when things work out. I was specifically thinking about being hopeful for a child, (note the wishbone in the foreground). And then being thankful when the child arrives (note the full blossom and the child’s sweater). This call and response, is one meaning that the pair paintings achieve together, and could not be expressed in a singular work.
‘Before the Snow’ and ‘White Christmas Hellebores’ share the same height dimension but one is wider. ‘Before the Snow’ is a contemplative shallow space for the audience to construe narrative but also, because of the nearly life scale it prompts verisimilitude lifting one from the business of their mind and places them in a quiet realm of experience.
‘White Christmas Hellebores’ expands upon the pleasure and importance of thinking about what is on one’s mind and in one’s heart. The paintings become windows in which we see what is outside, but simultaneously get lost in thought. The paintings draw the viewer into a reality that is both familiar and mysterious across two images that inform and reflect feelings that are beyond verbal language.
I love these timeless quiet paintings. They so easily allow the viewer to slip into a quiet contemplative mindset. Including the gloves in one painting and the brush in the second I metaphorically suggest the hands that fit these objects without overtly disclosing an agenda.
It is important to note, in order for the pair to be successful each painting must be satisfying in and of itself. Pairs are kind of like twins you cannot predict them nor do they come very often. Sometimes a gallerist or an artist will sell a collector two works around the same size, framed similarly, with compatible subjects. In this case the pair is created after the fact and is not the artist’s intention. This is an equally meaningful way to build a collection and to balance a space but it is not the same as collecting a pair.
“Strawberries and Creamer” and “Forget-me-nots and Moss” are a pair by virtue of the sugar and creamer set depicted. The human eye and brain enjoy comparative analysis; the eye moving from one similar image to another noting the differences. The objects create an understood bridge, one to the other.
In another favorite pair, ‘Winter Bouquet 1’ and ‘Winter Bouquet 2’ the idea came to me in a dream. Feeling both anticipatory and like a memory, it took attempting the painting twice to get close to the dream idea. Neither individual painting holds the entirety of the idea or emotion. Also, I was literally thinking of the way bouquets and by association the paintings occupy space. Many times, on a buffet or a long table two similar bouquets are placed. This gives continuity to the table. The people gathered have a sense that they are experiencing something similar to those at the other end of the table. The balance of two similar bouquets is architectural, spatial and elicits an unspoken calm.
The fact that they were painted in the cold surrounded by a white “tablecloth” of snow and then brought into the warmth of the home evokes compliments: the interior and exterior, the warmth and the cold, and the perpetual existence of the ephemeral cut flowers. It is also notable that the preceding pair ‘Before the Snow’ and ‘White Christmas Hellebores’ were painted just weeks before on the same rock in our backyard.
I envisioned ‘Dormant’ and ‘Emergent’ as a pair at the onset; a quiet dormant late November painting and then a March into early April painting. I thought of the time between the paintings as a contemplative space for myself and the audience. There is a cyclical yearning that is not just implied but woven right into the seasonal relationship of making these works. The works can surely stand on their own but they are deeply animated by each other.
As the artist, it is so satisfying to have one collector buy both paintings of a pair, some are not purchased as pairs. Sometimes a client prefers one over the other, or does not have room for both paintings. The pleasure of a pair requires the right space, a budget that can afford a pair and a collector who is open to the sensibilities a pair provides.
In the paintings ‘Spring Showers’ and ‘Snowdrops and May Baskets’, I was thinking about the first flowers of Spring. I typically go out with a shovel and collect some of the plants in odd containers to bring inside. Or I cut them to make small bouquets. This action requires kneeling before the plants and these two paintings draw the audience down low to kneel in on the ground. The two paintings make the space feel broad and diverse as if the viewer has traveled with me to first kneel at one site and then another. It gives the audience an intimate sense of the moment before the action of cutting or digging is performed and implies the journey into the house: warm, cozy and celebratory, filled with Spring flowers.
I am currently working on a large single painting in our backyard. It keeps pushing at me even though it is nearly complete…maybe it wants to become a pair. I will wait and listen to where it nudges me.
To see my work in progress I hope you will follow me on Instagram @pasmeche and stop by my website: bethannmoran.com and while there I hope you will sign up for my newsletter. The next time you are in a gallery or artist’s studio maybe the conversation of the pleasure of pairs will sneak up on you.
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